Conference paper

Vernacular Landscape: memory of a present continuous

In 1984, in his Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, John Brinckerhoff Jackson stated that it is through the study of the vernacular that we could finally arrive to give a complete definition of the landscape and of its beauty because it expresses the idea of a place where man creates his own human organization of space and time, where the slow processes of growth, maturity and decline are deliberately put in brackets and history takes their place. The concept of landscape implies at first a ‘design’ dimension. It is the result of a conscious action made by man for man. It is, quoting Pierre Deffontaines, the “oeuvre paysagique de l’homme”. Vernacular landscape is the place where the relationship between man and environment has been better expressed for what it is the immediate correspondence between structures and human needs, between art of building and local culture. It presents itself as a dictionary of man’s constructive logic, declaring without ambiguity its utility, its links to earth, climate and technique. Its capacity of including changes, of absorbing the passing of time without losing the architectural idea on which it lays has made its forms intelligible, its language accessible to everybody. The cultural dimension of vernacular landscape is far from being only related to the past and to “architecture without architects”. Traces of it could be found throughout the 20th century in some of the most important works of modernity. A large number of Masters travels sketches displays anonymous rural buildings, countryside and coastal landscapes. Their critical writings reveal the changing of these ‘recorded’ images into an ‘operative tool’. Their works are evidence of the ways through which memory has finally become a living present, a source of timeless modernity. The paper will suggest the idea of a vernacular cultural landscape intended as a memory of a present continuous. It will do so by analysing the layers which have been superposed on it by the changing of time and space. It will show, for instance, how the interlocking stone volumes of Scottish rural architecture, the typical chimney of the Swiss Jura farms, the Finnish tupa, the Spanish porxet, the rustic column of Capri’s peasants houses, the Mediterranean patio, the brick walls of north Italian barns and other architectural and spatial elements are to be found in modern architecture, tracing a map of memory and change through the flux of tradition and its absorption.


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